Tourist Attractions in Jim Thorpe: Mauch Chunk Switchback Railway

Not a lot of people like to go somewhere to just look at history. However, if you’re someone who’s an avid history enthusiast and then you happen to be in Jim Thorpe for a visit, then spend a day or a half at the Mauch Chunk Switchback Railway. Now if you’re really interested, continue reading and we’ll give you some preview on what to expect from this local attraction.

Mauch Chunk Switchback Railroad 1870Also called the Mauch Chunk & Summit Hill Railway, the Mauch Chunk Switchback Railway was built in 1827 by the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company or LC&N. It was operational for more than a hundred years until it stopped during the Great Depression. It is considered as the second operational railroad in the United States. It is worthy to note as well that in the last fifty years of operation, the railway became more of a tourist attraction in Jim Thorpe.

Jim Thorpe Coal Chutes

It officially opened in the 5th of May, 1827. During its earlier periods, it was able to send anthracite from company mines up to Summit Hill and to the coal chutes of the company in Mauch Chunk (old name of Jim Thorpe). The return trip meanwhile was handled by mules who rode the trains downhill. The trains were usually up to fourteen cars long and are able to haul about 25 tons of anthracite.

Aside from the distinction of Jim Thorpe having the second railroad in the U.S., it is also labeled as the very first coal road. The main reason why it eventually became a local attraction is the scenic as thrilling downhill ride. In fact, there was a point when the company running it started to carry in willing and interested passengers. As a result, coal shipping was only done in the morning while the rest of the day catered passenger service. The recreational use of the railway soon gained significance and this became the only purpose of the railroad after years of coal operation.

With the concept of downhill ride on the railroad providing thrills and excitement to passengers, the concept of the roller coaster began. And the new craze wasn’t just exclusive to local residents. As a matter of fact, several famous people and personalities came in and saw the attraction themselves. The likes of Thomas Edison, President Ulysses S. Grant, and Prince Maximilian of Wied visited and witnessed the ride.

By the year 1846, the railroad had to address the increasing demand for coal together with the obvious poor logistics offered by the single-track route. So a new track was built in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, with two steam-powered funicular systems. This one was intended to replace the traditional use of mules. The first one rose up to 664 feet to Mount Pisgah while the second one crossed Mount Jefferson. While the downward trip was still dependent on gravity, the up track used a ratchet, preventing a car that detached from the cable from running away down. This invention eventually inspired the creation of the anti-rollback device currently used by roller coasters nowadays.